With VIA's recent launch of it's $49 Android PC, I couldn't help but think there must be an awful lot of enthusiastic mobile developers, right about now. In fact, hardware is getting so cheap that job-seekers and people wanting to break into mobile or embedded development can start learning the basics with only an incredibly meager investment. Add to that freely available open source resources and obtaining development software becomes a non-issue. Budding entrepreneurs could use their older laptops for programming, leaving them to concentrate on their imagination and motivation.
VIA Android Career Kickstarter
What kinds of extreme, interactive and profitable projects could you dream up with a $49 computer? Here's what's under the hood with VIA:
- WonderMedia ARM 11 System-on-a-Chip (SoC), with a 6.70” x 3.35” footprint
- 4 watts of power when idling. At full throttle it consumes just 13.5 watts.
- A bunch of USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, and sound.
- Users add a display, keyboard and mouse. Touch-screen technology certainly makes sense, as well.
Is $49 for a VIA Android PC still too rich for your blood? There's more in this bag of tricks.
Give Your Career a Raspberry
Raspberry Pi is another “computer” with a small form-factor and an even smaller price of $35. This one has many of the same ports as the VIA PC, but runs on a slimmed-down version of Linux. According to the Raspberry Pi organization, the board was designed to be affordable enough to encourage young people to get back into learning to program, regardless of their economic situation. As you might expect, interest in the low-cost board has been enormous. Hospitals and museums wanted them for display screens, organizations in developing countries wanted them as alternatives to higher-priced mainstream PCs, while do-it-yourself developers wanted them for hacking. Running Linux gives developers powerful tools like C compilers, Apache Web servers, and all kinds of automation and scripting capabilities. The board also has a collection of general purpose input/output pins available, which might be useful for non-time-critical analog and digital control functions. There's already a rapidly growing development community around the Raspberry Pi.
Arduino Career Launcher
Then we come to the Arduino. This little micro-controller board has seen an insane amount of community interest and hacking. It's not a cheap PC. Rather, it's designed to link the real-world of sensors, switches, motors, actuators, etc. with basic computational power for automation and control. Priced at around $30, this device reads inputs, performs programmed computational and decision-making operations on the input data, then manipulates outputs. The Arduino has both analog and digital inputs and outputs, along with serial and USB interfaces. Programming is through an integrated development environment (IDE) running on an external Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux PC. Arduinos can function as standalone systems, or pipe data back and forth to tiny servers, such as the Raspberry Pi, to feed data to Web pages or databases. For a deeper understanding of this concept, look up the "Internet of Things" and to find Arduino-related items for sale like sensors and electro-mechanical products check out Sparkfun.com.
Breaking Down Barriers To Entry
Hardware costs for prototyping, or even production, is no longer a barrier to entry for budding entrepreneurs, particularly since Android and Linux are relatively easy to hack. These devices might be fashioned into an automotive entertainment systems, a variety of remotely controlled smart devices (robots, standalone autonomous systems, and UAVs), or interactive mobile computing platforms we can't even imagine yet. Micro-controllers and small-footprint PCs are everywhere. They are integrated into many larger systems and are readily available off-the-shelf. Now is definitely a great time to seize the moment and turn these devices into useful products and services people want and are willing to buy.